‘Tis the season for a consumer binge | VailDaily.com

‘Tis the season for a consumer binge

Alex Miller

Many people heard “boo!” the other night on Halloween. What I heard was the sound of a starting pistol to another holiday season.When I start hearing the word “Christmas,” I don’t get all Norman Rockwell, breaking out the reindeer sweater as I go through several miles of light strings with a continuity tester. No, I hear “ka-ching!” and think of all the stuff we and other American families will feel compelled to buy that, chances are, we can’t afford.Like the political election season, holiday season has experienced a good deal of “creep” over the years, meaning it’s just as likely you’ll be seeing Christmas decorations in Wal-Mart even before Halloween is over. In fact, I think I saw a plastic crèche and a blow-up Santa competing for shelf space with the sun block and Styrofoam beer coolers as far away as August.What’s the point in having a special, holiday season if that season is extended to six months of exposure? It reminds me of the film “The Incredibles,” where the villain plans to make super-hero accessories available to everyone, so no one will be special anymore. The giant retailers and the Great American Marketing Machine is so taken by the cash to be made during Christmastide that it’s no wonder they want to prolong the joy – even if it means diluting and degrading the whole experience.I’m no Scrooge; I like many of the trappings of Christmas and am far from immune to the charm of enraptured children on the big morning. But as America more and more becomes a nation determined to wring every last penny and drop of meaning out of everything we do – from the Super Bowl to the political conventions to the Presidents’ Day “Sale-a-Brations” – is it possible, just maybe, that we cheapen it all in the process?CHORUS OF MILLIONS: Yes!!!My family, like many in Colorado and around the nation, simply doesn’t have it this year. Blame it on the price of energy, groceries, rent, insurance, child care, doctor visits or whatever else, the fact is the price of living has gotten so high the notion of a big gift splash at Christmas seems less like a welcome inevitability and more like an unaffordable luxury.And, so, we will feel bad and guilty about this for quite some time – or we will go into debt to make it happen anyway. The reason being that the notion of buying a bunch of stuff is so ingrained in our psyche that to do otherwise would seem tantamount to depriving ourselves of food and shelter. This is the point at which Christmas becomes much less a joy and more an ongoing source of anxiety. If you fret for months beforehand, then whip out the plastic and have to sweat the payments for another six months or more, the Christmas agony can be stretched out over an entire year – or longer.Happy Holidays? Long after the plastic junk manufactured in China has made its way to the landfill, Chase and CitiCorp will remember well how much you spent and affix ongoing interest to your payments. It’s a terrible trap, one with the unfortunate effect of making what should be a happy time of year one fraught with a long shadow of angst.So, what to do? In this stretch from Halloween through Thanksgiving and into the Christmas season, we can take a deep breath, look at what we and the kids really need, set a realistic budget and do the best we can.Letting ourselves be swept along in a buying frenzy we can ill afford may assuage our guilt, but it replaces it with the embarrassment that, once again, we jumped off the bridge just because all the other kids were doing it.Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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